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Dan Martin

Why this should be considered an acceptable state of affairs is beyond comprehension.

Perhaps because many on both sides are so battered by the hyperbole of the other that they've given up hope of ever having a productive dialog? In other words, not "acceptable" so much as "beyond repair and not worth trying?"

When anyone who considers either the instigation or conduct of this particular war is dismissed out-of-hand as a pacifist (and your comment could be taken to suggest that "pacifist" is always and only an untenable position, unworthy of respect), what room is left for dialog?

The real problem is that, to those for whom either "wing" is correct, the other "wing" is evil incarnate. In that view, any suggestion that--in even one issue--one is agreeing with the "wrong" wing leads to immediate and total anathematization. Under such circumstances, "ships in the night" actually seems preferable.

Alan Lenzi

"I don’t see how someone can claim to be on top of things intellectually without a degree of familiarity with the liberal journal of record."

I don't see how anyone can claim to be on top things intellectually, period. There's too much to read, do, and know.



A big thank you for your fine blog.

I have a great deal of respect for the witness of the historic peace churches. Theirs is a consistent position, in which the church has as little to do with the state as possible, and does not support it in any way. It also takes the shape of a way of life.

The pacifism of university campuses, on the other hand, is little more than a fact of opinion. All but a few of those who espouse it do not stop paying taxes to the government that takes their money and buys bombs with it. All but a few do not stop supporting the President and commander-in-chief that they do, based on party affiliation, though neither party is committed to pacifist principles.

This sort of pacifism is hard to take seriously. It has little practical effect, though it does provide ideological cover for the choice not to serve in the armed forces.

Pacifism-lite also changes on a dime to support of war under the right circumstances. Who can forget the sea-change in public opinion after 9/11?

That's because, so far as I can see, pacifism-lite is just a poorly thought out version of just-war theory. On the poorly thought out version, there are wars of choice and wars of necessity. The important thing is not to engage in war unless you have no other choice. If it is suggested that this has it exactly backwards, silence ensues. If historical examples are given which demonstrate that engaging in war, not on one's own timetable, but that of an enemy, ends up causing more carnage rather than less, an attempt is made to change the subject. Or so it has been, in my experience.

Here I am, an avowed non-pacifist, who thinks it is my moral obligation, as a citizen in a democracy, to evaluate the instigation and conduct of war. But it's not easy to find someone to talk to. On the one side, there are the "it's my country/party, right or wrong" types who regard criticism of country or political party as a form of treason. On the other side, there are those who think they have solved the problem with a default pacifism.

Neither side really wants to be bothered. They are too busy with more important things, or so they seem to think.

Just my two cents.


Well, since I read your blog, I now know about the moderated forum on a nation at war! Apparently everyone is just tuning out.

After reading Augustine, it does seem to me that his references to "just war" were really references to the Roman's notion of "justified war" as defined by Cicero and others - for maintaining and expanding the Roman Empire. Did I miss something? Or is the modern notion of "just war" being derived from Augustine just a hoax?


Hi Looney,

Well, it's nice to know that not everyone in civvies has tuned out.

I think it's reductive to think of Christian reflection on war in Augustine's day as nothing more than a reflex of the commitment of Christians in the Roman Empire to their state - per Romans 13 and 1 Peter 3.

Here is Ambrose, a contemporary of Augustine, indeed, one of his mentors:

fortitude which in war preserves the country from the barbarians, or helps the infirm at home, or defends one's neighbor's from robbers, is full of justice. . . . He who does not repel an injury done to his fellow, if he is able to do so, is as much at fault as he who commits the injury.[1]

On this view, it is sometimes appropriate to oppose an enemy, and if necessary, kill him, out of love for a third party.

[1] De officis, 1.27.129; 1.36.179.

Dan Martin

John, I respect (and to some degree, share) your frustration. Although I am a qualified pacifist myself as you already know, I believe it's also possible to engage in fruitful dialog with people who DON'T accept that position, vis-a-vis a specific war or action. There are a number of issues I have with the entry into and conduct of the U.S. action in Iraq, for example, that do not require a presupposition of absolute nonviolence. Tragically, any reasoned consideration of these issues is usually precluded by the shouting from one or both "sides."

I agree with you that the reflexive-leftwing pacifism of many self-styled intellectuals, is just as impossible to engage as the reflexive my-party-is-right-and-yours-is-wrong partisans of both stripes in the U.S. Neither allows for consideration of viewpoints that don't meet their checklist, and it drives me crazy.

But back on the original question you posited in this article, I would submit (and I suspect you would agree) that the population of the two types of reflexives just described, so far outweighs the population of people who might entertain a reasoned debate, as to make an enlightening conversation nearly impossible.

Which is why I think those of us who remain have just gotten exhausted and shut up most of the time...not out of indifference, but rather exhaustion.


I understand the exhaustion. It's not an option in my case. I talk to young people, and parents and family of young people in the armed forces, on a regular basis.

First of all, the armchair choice of a civilian to focus on the pros and cons of one ongoing military commitment rather than another is not an option for them. Their tours of duty take them to Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, a theater (Kuwait, Qatar, etc.), or home base. In order to make sense out of what they are doing, and engage in critical but also respectful reflection, they need a broad perspective.

For this, a rehearsal of the arguments of Harvard's Niall Ferguson, Colossus, The Price of American Empire, proves helpful. Secondly, some understanding of why a pre-emptive use of force is a preferred military strategy is necessary. Here Yale's John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience, is helpful. Finally, the four schools of American foreign policy need to be identified and understood. Here Walter Russell Mead's scholarship is helpful, for example, Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World.

I think part of my responsibility as a pastor is to mediate concepts and perspectives that may prove helpful to those on the front lines. Ultimately, I want to help young people I have known since 9/11, those who heard through that event a calling on their life, to continue to think it through in the context of their relationship with God.

Some of those young people have become pastors. Others joined the Marines. I consider both to be on the front lines. Each needs to be aware of the peculiar challenges and contradictions to which their callings are subject.

Dan Martin

Well, obviously I don't share a perspective that would support providing spiritual encouragement to participating in the military, or preemptive force. You already knew that, and nothing I say will change your opinion, nor you mine.

However, your mentioning the validity of a preemptive strategy (which hypothetically, I can at least comprehend, though I have not read the sources you cite), and with it mentioning 9/11, does concern me for all the reasons I know you've heard before...that Saddam & Iraq were not plausibly linked to 9/11, and that just going out to kick some Arab butts seemed to be a big part of the national psyche following 9/11. Further, that even in 2002, some of us (and I was one) saw probable reason to doubt that Iraq posed any threat to the United States that could/should be preempted.

This is part of the reason I posed the argument in my own war & peace series, that I really would like NON-pacifist Christians to engage, that submitting to a military chain of command requires the individual to abdicate at least some degree of his own moral agency/responsibility in agreeing to follow orders that may result in immoral actions and/or immoral ends.

I respect the attitude of self-sacrifice and service to nation/people that characterizes many who serve in the military. It's an admirable spirit. I do believe the church is complicit, however, in directing that attitude toward the service of a fallen kingdom of this world rather than the Kingdom of God, and that is one of those places where I suspect we'll simply need to respectfully disagree.

One of the best recent treatises on the subject, which you may or may not have encountered, is Greg Boyd's "The Myth of a Christian Nation." Though I know Greg is highly suspect in Evangelical circles due to his teaching on the Open View of God, I would encourage people to set that aside and give "Myth" a does not depend on Open Theology in the slightest, and it does present a compelling picture of the use of power in the kingdoms of this world vs. the Kingdom of Jesus.



First of all, thank you for the conversation. You are well-aware of the inevitable gulf that separates a pacifist from a non-pacifist stance. I appreciate the honesty.

I realize that your stance does not allow you to be a military chaplain in any sense of the word, but I remain uncertain about the larger way of life your position entails. Does it represent an alternative to the "city of man" as we know it? Or is that city in fact a "host," and those who hold to a pacifist point of view like yours a "parasite"?

The historic peace churches understood the question. Their commitment and the separatism it entailed, like that of the Rechabites in the Old Testament, represents a powerful witness.

But when pacifism is not much more than a fact of opinion, I can't help but think of it as a form of ideological cover.

The military chaplains I learned about in seminary, the Waldensian Theological Seminary in Rome, were students of that seminary during WW II.

A number of Waldensian youth had become partisans, the armed resistance to the Nazi occupation of northern Italy. Some of those youth, and their unofficial chaplains (students in theology), paid the ultimate price for their courage.

You will never catch me suggesting that what they did was morally questionable, though of course it was, but no more so than sitting on one's hands.

You will never catch me suggesting that when a young woman cleans up her act, gives up drugs, joins the Armed Forces, and proudly wears the uniform, her actions are morally questionable, though of course they are. As I write these lines, of course, I have in mind specific individuals.

My biggest gripe with someone like Greg Boyd (I've watched him on youtube) is his willingness to be used by Democrats for partisan political ends. He claims to be disturbed that evangelical Christians have allowed themselves to be co-opted by Republicans (amen to that). But he doesn't seem to mind that the liberal media co-opts him in conformity with their political agenda.

I cannot help but think that all this amounts to is a preference for someone like Carter or Obama as commander-in-chief rather than someone like George Bush or Ronald Reagan. My preferences go in the opposite direction, but I would have thought these are matters about which reasonable people might disagree.

The value of the scholarship of Mead, Gaddis, and Ferguson, for the pacifist, is to put the kind of American foreign policy we are familiar with, the Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, . . . Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations included, into historical perspective. An aggressive military stance is of a piece with the entire sweep of American history. In the face of that, a credible pacifism would need to translate into a way of life that is far more than a fact of opinion if it were ever to be taken seriously by a majority of believers.

Dan Martin

I think you are correct, John, in suggesting that a pacifist stance can at times be (1) not well thought through, (2) a cover for an ideology that has wider implications. However, the suggestion that it is "parasitic" presupposes a great deal about the validity and necessity of violent actions, that I'm not prepared to grant. A violent foreign policy has been part and parcel of the American modus operandi from the beginning; it does not necessarily follow that the violence was the only, or best, way to achieve the good ends that are also part of America, nor that all ends (or intents) purposed by that violence were good or moral.

The reality is that we can no more separate ourselves completely from society today, than the first- and second-century Christians (many, though admittedly not all, pacifists) could separate themselves completely from Roman society. That did not leave them, and does not leave us, with no choice but baptize and defend the society in which we find ourselves, or else become recluses and hermits.

I guess I haven't seen Boyd co-opted by a liberal agenda--maybe I don't watch/read the right liberal media. I certainly grant, as you have, that reasonable people might choose Republican leaders while other reasonable people might choose Democrats--heck, I think you and I are reasonable people and that's exactly what we've done... ;{)

But are you really saying that the only choices are either (1)accept that any military action our nation chooses to hazard is acceptable and must be supported by Christians in uniform; or (2) one must be an absolute pacifist, renounce membership in American society (maybe even citizenship), and live a separated life? Is there no room to question the morality of the specific military action, campaign, or conflict? What then of any just war theory? What, for that matter, of Christians who choose to serve the country in nonmilitary roles? Was it immoral for me as a pacifist to work (as I did) for the federal Centers for Disease Control?

Finally, there IS a good example of a more risky and incarnational pacifism out there. If you aren't already familiar with it, I encourage you to read up on the Christian Peacemaker Teams (, and the 1984 speech that launched them Sider's challenge never was answered on the scale it ought, but it remains a potent one. I freely admit I haven't gone to that length. But I still believe there is room for us to evaluate the morality of specific situations and involvements, and am deeply troubled by the blanket imprimatur often granted by the church to the government in this regard.

Dan Martin

I suppose I should add that I grew up in two historic peace churches, the Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren. The branches of those churches that I attended did not accept the notion of separation from society--in fact, I was taught that separation meant becoming a pacifist in the "passive" sense, and was in fact counter to the notion of being a peacemaker, Jesus-style. It was because of this that Mennonites founded Mennonite Central Committee as the outreach and relief arm for the church.



We agree on more than you know. I have fond memories, BTW, of visiting Ron Sider in person when he was in Philadelphia (perhaps he still is).

I have nothing but respect for the Rechabite-style pacifist witness, and I grew up on Rudy Wiebe's controversial depictions of it in his novels "Peace Shall Destroy Many" and "The Blue Mountains of China." I'm fine with non-separatist pacifism so long as it is costly in terms of consequences. Otherwise I think it is fair to call it a parasite on a host.

I can't think of anything good to say about live and let die "make love, not war" types, but I can think of *only* good to say about the Quakers who went to Vietnam and set up jungle hospitals in which they would piece back together whoever showed up on their doorstep. That is a powerful witness. The trajectory of the cpt movement is unknown to me. I am far more familiar with the efforts of the comunita' di Sant'Egidio, a Catholic-based movement which has succeeding in brokering peace where diplomacy has failed.

I don't think these initiatives have received the attention they deserve. Either they are treated with kid gloves and viewed through rose-colored glasses, or they are dismissed out of hand.

A couple of other matters. The takeover of the Roman Empire by the Christian church was, I'm convinced, fully within the providence of God. It would have been a huge abdication of responsibility on the part of the institution of the church *not* to step into the vacuum. Already in Augustine's day, the bishops had their own parallel justice system up and running, and pagans and Christians alike preferred the church's justice system to that of the Roman state. A different balance of mercy and judgment. To suggest that the church should have just left the Roman state to its own devices has an air of inhumanity and cruelty about it. But I've noticed that most pacifists who talk about church and state in late antiquity know next to nothing about the facts on the ground, the real-life consequences of the choices that were made.

For the rest, I argue for the freedom of the believer to be a pacifist, including a conscientious objector, but also a soldier. Those who suggest she *must* be one or the other live in a black-and-white world I find disturbing.

Dan Martin

For the rest, I argue for the freedom of the believer to be a pacifist, including a conscientious objector, but also a soldier. Those who suggest she *must* be one or the other live in a black-and-white world I find disturbing.

This is a summary I can totally get behind, John. The more I see of your comments the more I realize you, too, see nuance and struggle in the subject, and I appreciate that. I have the biggest problem with American Christians who simply quote Romans 13 and the Pledge of Allegiance, and paint all others as rejecting both God and the good we enjoy in this country.

I would appreciate more of your thoughts, though, on the question of how the Christian who chooses to be a soldier, weighs (should weigh?, may weigh?) the morality of specific orders and/or broader campaigns, in the light of individual moral agency and accountability before God. It still seems to me that there is an unacknowledged tension there between the duty to one's commanding officer and the duty to one's own soul. In failing to confront that tension, I fear the NON-peace-churches have done their soldiers--and the nation--a disservice.



You say:

"I fear the NON-peace-churches have done their soldiers--and the nation--a disservice."

They certainly have. I am looking forward to the upcoming publication of Just War as Christian Discipleship: Recentering the Tradition in the Church rather than the State, by Daniel M. Bell.

It is being recommended by Stanley Hauerwas.

As for the peace churches, I'm not sure they handle it well when their own choose to go to war.

Mennonite Rudy Wiebe's novel, Peace Shall Destroy Many, tells the story of young Mennonites choosing to go to war during WW II. The novel was not well-received among Mennonites.

So long as true-to-life stories like these are treated as dirty laundry not to be aired in public, the moral authenticity of the choice to go to war appears to be dismissed out of hand.

Dan Martin

The novel was not well-received among Mennonites.

It was required reading in a class I took at Goshen (Mennonite) college, or Lancaster Mennonite High School...I forget which. I still have it, but it's 25-30 years since I read it; I need to dust it off.

But you're right, when a Menno goes to war it hurts. Though I no longer consider myself a Menno, if my son (now 12) ever chooses to join the military it will grieve me to my very core.

Nevertheless I really want to see Bell's book that you reference.

By the way, I never returned your thanks for a civil and interesting conversation. I appreciate's as rare on my "side" as it is yours.

Dan Martin

By the way, I don't know if trackback works for you if the reference is on blogger, but I just posted a link to you on mine...



I added a link to your post in the body of mine.

Dan Martin

Hey John,

I just started a discussion that partly follows up on this one. I would really appreciate if you choose to engage, as I respect your voice. My question (in more detail at the post) regards the duty of Christian Iraqis in the various conflicts between the U.S. and Iraq.


Hi Dan,

Well, I gave it a shot. Thanks for the invite.

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    great theoblog by Sam Nunnally
  • Qumranica
    weblog for a course on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, taught by James R. Davila (archive)
  • Ralph the Sacred River
    by Edward Cook, a superb Aramaist
  • Random Bloggings
    by Calvin Park, M. Div. student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton MA
  • Resident aliens
    reflections of one not at home in this world
  • Revelation is Real
    Strong-minded comment from Tony Siew, lecturer at Trinity Theological College, Singapore
  • Ricoblog
    by Rick Brannan, it's the baby pictures I like the most
  • Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
    Nick Norelli's fabulous blog on Bible and theology
  • SansBlogue
    by Tim Bulkeley, lecturer in Old Testament, Carey Baptist College (New Zealand). His Hypertext Commentary on Amos is an interesting experiment
  • Ancient Near Eastern Languages
    texts and files to help people learn some ancient languages in self study, by Mike Heiser
  • Midrash, etc.
    A fine Hebrew-to-English blog on Midrash, by Carl Kinbar, Director of the New School for Jewish Studies and a facultm member at MJTI School of Jewish Studies.
  • Phil Lembo what I'm thinking
    a recovering lawyer, now in IT, with a passion for a faith worth living
  • Roses and Razorwire
    a top-notch Levantine archaeology blog, by Owen Chesnut, a doctoral student at Andrews University (MI)
  • Scripture & Theology
    a communal weblog dedicated to the intersection of biblical interpretation and the articulation of church doctrine, by Daniel Driver, Phil Sumpter, and others
  • Scripture Zealot
    by Jeff Contrast
  • Serving the Word
    incisive comment on the Hebrew Bible and related ancient matters, with special attention to problems of philology and linguistic anthropology, by Seth L. Sanders, Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of Trinity College, Hartford, CT
  • Singing in the Reign
    NT blog by Michael Barber (JP University) and Brad Pitre (Our Lady Holy Cross)
  • Stay Curious
    excellent comment on Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language topics, by Karyn Traphagen, graduate, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia PA (archive)
  • Sufficiency
    A personal take on the faith delivered to the saints, by Bob MacDonald, whose parallel blog on the Psalms in Hebrew is a colorful and innovative experiment
  • The Sundry Times
    Gary Zimmerli's place, with comment on Bible translations and church renewal
  • Sunestauromai: living the crucified life
    by a scholar-pastor based in the Grand Canyon National Park
  • ta biblia
    blog dedicated to the New Testament and the history of Christian origins, by Giovanni Bazzana
  • Targuman
    by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
  • Targuman
    on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
  • The Biblia Hebraica Blog
    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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